At One Small Design Firm, Sharing is the Best Business Tool

Cork tables with plants
The Grain Cork table collection is available through the Colony design cooperative. Photo courtesy of Ben Blood

Prior to this success, the founders were painfully aware of how little they knew about building an ethical business, and they turned to other up-and-coming regional designers to share knowledge and costs. “The economy was so bad when we started that we reached out to friends in the design community to share resources. We learned together how to market our projects,” says James, who co-founded Studio JOIN with Chelsea and designers from Iacoli & McAllister and Ladies & Gentlemen, a collective now in its fourteenth year. While they have now evolved to rely less on JOIN, the art of resource sharing remains a touchpoint for Grain. “There is power in community, especially when you’re a small fish,” says Chelsea.

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Taking on the arduous task of becoming a B Corp was a logical next step in the quest to both run an ethical business and continue to learn from a larger collective. “Environmental and social responsibility have been part of our mission statement since we were founded, but we didn’t always know what that meant or how to put it into practice at our scale,” says James, reflecting a state of mind that many emerging companies are familiar with is.

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Two people in a warehouse with boxes and cork sheets and furniture
Shown with cork for their new collection, the founders of Grain spent many years making homeware and accessories by hand. Photo courtesy of Ben Blood

This awareness is one of the reasons Grain has steadily garnered certifications like B Corp, including becoming a carbon neutral certified brand in 2020. For them, the awards are less about showing a feather in their cap and more about the learning that occurs in the application process. “Going through all the steps to become a B Corp has really sparked my imagination of how our company could become more socially responsible,” says Chelsea. As part of the certification process, the studio established new banking practices, strengthened employee benefits and did a deep dive into vendor business practices.

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Man with a yellow robotic tool
James Minola with a robot in the studio’s workshop. Photo courtesy of Ben Blood

Now that Grain is settling into a new 3,000 square foot studio with a massive homebuilt robotic milling arm and preparing to launch its latest collection of cork furniture through design co-operative Colony, the success of their eco-focused and collaborative organization is on -oriented business model comes into focus. “For us, sustainability should be part of the ethical contract of design practice,” says Chelsea. “We’re a tiny company on an island and we know our reach is small, but that has never stopped us from performing every day with our values ​​as our guide.”

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